Thursday, February 17, 2011


When I learned that Wess D was going to be the guest speaker for Quaker Heritage Day, my first thought was, "I should go with him as his elder!"  Then I looked at my planner and realized that I couldn't―Quaker Heritage Day was scheduled for the same weekend as the February School of the Spirit residency in Durham, North Carolina.

Wess and I talked on the phone soon after, and we both said we were sorry that we would not be able to do this ministry together.  I promised to keep him in my prayers, and he said that he would let me know how his search for an elder progressed.  A few weeks later, Wess sent me an email saying that he would be traveling with a Friend from his church who was new to this kind of work.  Wess asked if I had written any blog posts about being an elder and I realized that I had not, and I probably should.

So here are some of my thoughts on being an elder.  Before I begin, I would like to clarify that this is a specific kind of eldering, that is, traveling with a minister to hold the minister and the community in prayer as he or she gives ministry under a concern.  I have also done less formal sorts of eldering in my home meeting, which I may talk about in another post.  In addition, although I have eldered for both men and women called to ministry, I will use female pronouns for the rest of this post for simplicity.  I will also refer to the gathering as a "workshop," even though these reflections would apply in many contexts.

As an elder, I have found that prayer is essential.  When I feel called to elder for someone, that person is in my prayers long before we travel.  I pray that she will be open to what God is putting in her heart to share.  I also pray for the people we will visit, that their hearts will be open to hear the message.

Before the workshop, it is important for me to spend time with the minister.  It is best if we have an opportunity to worship with each other, but traveling and eating together are also good ways for us to "sync up" before offering ministry.

During the workshop, I continue to hold the minister and the community in prayer.  This can be a very powerful experience for me.  I often feel myself holding the meeting, which, for me, feels like being at the bottom of a well.  I don't always hear all of the words Friends are sharing, but I have a sense of how the Spirit is moving through them and in the room.

Eldering is a very physical experience for me.  When I am praying, I feel the weight of the ministry.  I am also very aware of the bodies of those in the room.  I have found that one of the gifts I bring to eldering is a sense of when to take a break, either because people are getting restless, or because they need time to absorb the ministry being shared.

I try to be mindful about where I am in the room, and I check in with the minister beforehand about what would feel most supportive for her.  Generally, I try to sit near the minister, but where I can also see everyone in the room.  Sometimes I feel led to move, and I try to be open to that.

I check in with the minister throughout the workshop, to see how things are going with her and to share any impressions that arise.  Sometimes this is as mundane as making sure the minister has water or a snack, other times it involves major course correction to respond to the needs of the people in the room.  If the workshop is long, it can be grounding to have another opportunity to worship together.

Throughout, I do my best to lay down my own business and concerns and be open to God. 

It is helpful for me if the minister lets me know if she wants anything in particular.  For example, when I eldered for Marge A in the fall, she asked me to sum up the day in the final worship.  Knowing that in advance helped me to pay attention to the threads of ministry being woven together over the course of the workshop.

The relationship of minister and elder is intimate, and I think it is important for anyone being called to this work to know that in advance.  Ideally, both the minister and the elder are open and vulnerable to God, which can make them quite open and vulnerable to each other.  Spiritual intimacy often is not recognized in our culture, and it can be confusing for those doing ministry and those witnessing the ministry.  Consequently, while doing this work, it is critical for both the minister and elder to keep their focus on God.

After the workshop is over, I try to spend time with the minister reflecting on the experience.  Something I have learned from the School of the Spirit is the practice of examen―reflecting on the day, in particular, how I felt the Spirit at work and where the Spirit felt absent or blocked.  This is a time when the minister and I may feel tender and tired, so it is not a good idea to rehash everything, but it is good to take some time to check in again and close in worship.  I also try to keep in touch with the minister over the following days and weeks to see if anything arises about the experience.

I realize that I have described a kind of idealized eldering experience here.  I don't remember to do all of these things all the time.  In fact, when I am preparing to serve as an elder, I usually have a moment of panic, when I feel sure that I can't do it.  That is important for me, because it reminds me that I am not doing this―God is working through me to help ground the minister in truth.

Friends have a lot of historical resources describing the experiences of ministers, but not very many about the experiences of elders.  That isn't surprising; I have found that elders aren't always the chattiest bunch.  It is intuitive work and there aren't always words for the experiences.  I hope that these reflections on my experiences are helpful for those feeling called to serve as an elder, and I would welcome responses from others who have done this work.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jesus and Me

It seems like everyone in my School of the Spirit class is hard at work on our second projects.  I have finished all my research, but I haven't written the paper yet, which is not great, because it's due next Thursday.  

One of my classmates is writing a paper on Jesus, and she sent us the following questions:
  • Who is Jesus in your life?
  • What does it mean to you to live a Christian life?
  • What one thing would you say to people to describe your relationship with Jesus?
It took me a long time to respond.  And when I did, it was scary, because I knew the answers were not the "right" ones.  But they were real.  Here they are, with links to some of the Bible verses that led me to believe these things.

Who is Jesus in your life?

Jesus was a young man of incredible faithfulness and courage.  He was an introvert who was called to speak and lead; he sometimes lost his temper, but he always learned from his experiences.*  He did not know the future any more than any other person; that is to say, it came to him in bits and pieces.  And even when he knew what was going to happen, he still lived up to the measure of Light given to him.

What does it mean to you to live a Christian life?

To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (which means you'd better love yourself!).
What one thing would you say to people to describe your relationship with Jesus? 
I don't feel that I have a relationship with Jesus like some of my friends do.  I admire him, but we don't hang out.  I experience God through the Holy Spirit, and I think those experiences are similar to the experiences of others who have a more personal relationship with Jesus.

*With thanks to my friend Janie, who pointed this story out to me.